Latino cabbies pressing Minneapolis for more permits

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With the growth of the Latino community in Minnesota, and in Minneapolis in particular, the need for a new type of service has cropped up – taxis whose drivers speak Spanish.

Minneapolis’ Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee held a meeting on May 17 to decide whether or not to increase the number of licenses – they have not granted new licenses since 1993. If they do, they will give the green light to three Latino taxi companies to start operating.

Many see the current situation as a monopoly, and want to break the stranglehold. Luis Humberto Caire, consultant for several businesses, including two Latino taxi companies, is coordinating the efforts to obtain the licenses. He says, “It is time to break this monopoly and to open the doors to new companies.”

City Councilmember Gary Schiff, one of the five members of the Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee, agrees and says, “I believe that the city of Minneapolis needs to increase its number of licenses, there is no other business that Minneapolis limits more.”

There are currently no Latino taxi companies licensed in Minneapolis, and various Latino business owners think its time that changed.

“Most of the people who come to this country don’t speak English and they are afraid to get in a taxi whose driver does not speak Spanish,” says Nicholas González, proprietor of Toro Taxi, one of the four Latino companies that hope to obtain licenses. Carlos Illisaca, proprietor of Ecuadorian Express, says that “many people cannot even communicate where they live and they are afraid that drivers will trick them, will drive them around and charge them more – it happens.”

More variety would improve service to more communities. However, there is another reason for increasing the number of licenses, to improve Minneapolis’ public transportation.

“More licenses would mean cleaner cars … more gas efficient, even hybrids,” says Schiff, and notes that it would also improve public transportation to downtown.

But not everybody supports increasing the number of licenses in Minneapolis. Some drivers and proprietors think that this would only flood an already saturated market. One driver from the Blue & White Taxi Company says that, during his shift – which begins at 4 in the morning in downtown Minneapolis – the streets are full of empty taxis, and that the same is true on Lake Street. There are currently11 taxi companies in the city, which operate approximately 425 taxis during the winter and 375 during the summer.

For Samuel Zackary Williams, proprietor of Rainbow Taxi, the solution would be for Latinos to use already existing companies. Williams, who is a consultant for the Minneapolis Organization of Taxicab Owners and Drivers and is president of the Minneapolis Taxicab Federation, says that, “at the moment, taxi drivers are just struggling to get by, increasing the number of licenses will make the situation worse. There are companies, like mine, that have positions available for Latinos who want to be drivers. I also have drivers that speak Spanish.

Nick Dranias, however, just sees fear of competition. Dranias is a lawyer for the Institute for Justice in Minnesota, a nonprofit dedicated to the defense of the public interest against monopolies and in favor of open markets.

“There should be no legal impediments with regard to the number of taxis in Minneapolis. Whoever fulfills the requirements should be allowed to start their own company,” he says.

Dranias says other companies do not want competition because it would mean “that they would have to work harder, to innovate and to reduce prices.”

The general feeling among the Latino companies is optimistic. Luis Paucar, proprietor of the company New Star Taxi & Limo says, “Yes, I think that they will give us the licenses, they must open the door to new companies.”